Driving home last week, I followed a local school bus dropping children off at their streets. As we both cruised around the curves near my neighborhood, I could see the students’ bodies as they swayed back and forth with the movement of the bus, and wondered, for the umpteenth time: Why don’t school buses have seatbelts?

Parade recently wondered this as well, taking on the question in their March 21 issue, reporting that both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association want to see seat belts on buses.

The National Coalition for School Bus Safety (NCSBS), an organization that collects bus accident data and advocates for seat belts to be placed on buses, reports that over 22 million children ride school buses, in addition to thousands who ride them for church, camps, and other activities.

The NCSBS also points out that not having belts on buses is a form of “negative education.”

This training carries over to the family car, leaving children defenseless against their number one killer, the automobile collision. Our teens are killed in drastic numbers each year because they haven't learned the importance of wearing a seat belt.

The Data

Statistically, school buses are a great deal safer than cars. A WebMD article, School Buses Still Best, points out that the death rate from car accidents is eight times higher.

The main reason buses are considered safe is due to “compartmentalization,” a term that refers to the thick, high-backed seats that can protect passengers in a crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2002 to Congress that adding safety belts to buses already designed to cushion students in a crash did not improve passenger protection.

The Cost

School districts argue that the cost of adding belts to existing buses is prohibitive. In the Parade piece, Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association put that cost at $15,000 per bus.

The Questions

I initially thought that this was just a financially-based issue for school districts.

It’s not.

District officials have brought up concerns with proper use of seat belts (they can be used as weapons), and the fact that it would be difficult to ensure every student is wearing their belt properly, if at all. And since buses have been proven to be much safer than cars, why mess with a good thing?

Still, even with all this information, something about no seat belts on buses just doesn’t seem right. Too many children — too many lives — are at stake. With bicycle helmet recommendations, seat belt laws, car seat rules and regulations, and constant warnings in our society about keeping children safe, it’s hard for a parent to make sense of something that appears, at first, to be common sense.

Parents, what do you think? Would a requirement for seat belts on buses be a waste of money? Is it even a good idea?